Fred Varley's World War I painting entitled "For What?"

Lest We Forget

Originally published on on November 11, 2003.

This Remembrance Day, let us remember Canadians who fought and died during the two World Wars and the Korean War. Let us also remember those of other nations (Germans, Russians, Japanese, Koreans and many others) who fought and died as our allies, or our enemies.

Let us also remember that those who fought and died on both sides were primarily working people, whether volunteers or conscripts. They were not members of the privileged elites, whose class and corporate interests (rather than their country’s alleged national interests) sparked the wars in the first place.

Let us also remember those who fought against injustice without the support of the Canadian government. Let us honour the brave individuals (and entire brigades like Mackenzie-Papineau) who went to Spain in the 1930s to defend the republic and revolution from fascism. Let us not forget that these veterans of the Spanish War fought and died despite our government’s threat to imprison them upon their return.

Let us also remember those who refused to fight for unjust causes and were called “cowards.” Let us for once acknowledge their bravery — for standing alone with their principles, in the face of ridicule, persecution, imprisonment, harassment, threats, or violence from their own friends or family, from their own community, or from the institutions of the Canadian state.

Let us also remember the combatants and civilian victims of a whole host of other wars past and present — wars in which Canada may or may not have sent soldiers, but Canadian arms manufacturers made (and continue to make) huge profits through the sale of weapons.

Let us remember those who continue to fight and die resisting brutal dictatorships — regardless of whether Canadian politicians and our “free press” consider these dictators to be “enemies“ or ”allies.” Let us speak out against the exploitative and repressive measures of these dictators, even while our government helps to prop them up with money and military hardware. Let us honour the dissidents who struggle to change these societies by any means necessary. And let us honour, support and join those in our own societies who work in solidarity with oppressed people the world over.

And most of all, let us remember that one day a year is not enough. The meaning of Remembrance Day is greatly diminished, even trivial, if it is confined to wearing a plastic poppy every November. It is meaningless if it is patriotic, as if our empathy and allegiance should stop at a border that was itself constructed by conquest and war.

Remembrance Day is also meaningless if it remains disconnected from today’s struggles for peace and a better future, both at home and abroad. The struggle to end war is literally the same as the ongoing struggle to democratize our own country, to shift resources from military to social spending, and to wrest control of our communities and workplaces from corporations and private power. In Canada, we must first acknowledge — and pay reparations for — historical and ongoing crimes against First Nations peoples, and we must first acknowledge — and completely reverse — our unsavoury, immoral and profiteering role in foreign affairs, before we can proudly (or accurately) claim to be a force for peace, freedom, democracy or justice in the world.

This Remembrance Day, open your eyes and hearts to the ongoing, daily, systemic class war against the poor in this country. Open your heart to the fact that poverty is a form of violence (suffered daily by thousands of Canadians), and we live under an economic system that requires unemployment and poverty, in order to keep wages low and private profits high.

Remember also the ongoing genocide committed against the Lubicon Cree in Alberta and the Anishnaabe of Grassy Narrows (sadly, not aberrations), as well as the daily racism and injustice faced by First Nations peoples across the land. Remember, and stand in solidarity with those who resist exploitation, torture, injustice, as well as foreign aggression or intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan, East Timor, Haiti, Palestine, Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, Sierra Leone, Zaire, Somalia, Burma, the former Soviet Union, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and on and on and on. Remember all these struggles, at home and abroad, and work to change the structures of power in your own community and country which give rise to war and injustice in the first place.

This Remembrance Day, mourn your dead, and commemorate your fallen heroes. But most of all, work for positive social change. Question the pronouncements and rhetoric of your so-called “leaders.” Become an activist for peace. Speak out against the racist attacks upon — and racial “profiling” of — people of colour in the wake of September 11. Join the fight against the wholesale and racist deportation of Palestinians and other Arabs that is occurring as we speak — merely the latest in a long line of shameful bigotry and collective punishment in Canadian history, going back to the so-called “reservation system” (which inspired Apartheid), through the expulsion of the Acadians, to the internment of the Japanese, and the closing of our borders to Jews fleeing Nazi terror.

This Remembrance Day let us for once affirm that “No One is Illegal!” This Remembrance Day, let us resist the criminalization of dissent, and the attack on civil liberties in the name of a very false security. This Remembrance Day, let us oppose the wars that are now being waged, rather than simply buying a poppy to show how mournful we are, while we fall in line behind the expanding American Empire.

Oppose Canada’s ongoing intervention in Afghanistan, and any Canadian participation in the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. Fight to end these and every other unjust war! Anything else is hypocrisy. Anything else is not only immoral, but also sows the seeds of future terrorism. Anything else is lip service.

Parent, activist, researcher, amateur (and sometimes professional) historian, sci-fi/fantasy and nerd culture enthusiast, wilderness survival wannabe, former punk, red wine anarchist.

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